The Province of Saskatchewan has released its first quarter fiscal update with total revenue for 2015-16 forecasted at $14.04 billion, down $237.8 million from budget. Total expense is forecasted at $14.33 billion, which is up $161 million from budget, placing the projected deficit for the fiscal year at $292 million.
Despite the deficit, Finance Minister Kevin Doherty said in a press release that the government will work to balance Saskatchewan’s books by the end of the year through careful management and restraint measures.
“Our government has a strong track record of managing the province’s finances when challenged by volatility and we will meet the challenge again,” Doherty said.
However, the NDP Opposition says there is no reason for the deficit and blames the government for putting the province in debt. It also has no faith that the budget will be balanced by the end of the year, saying the Saskatchewan Party talks a big game but rarely backs it up.
“The Sask. Party has no excuses for the deficit and debt position they’ve launched the Saskatchewan people into. This is a government that hasn’t been able to balance the books in the best years and through a historic run of unprecedented highs in revenues,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP deputy leader and finance critic.
“These guys will sing a song and pretend all sorts of things. Even in all the years previous, the premier and the Sask. Party would pretend that they were going to be balancing the budget. They’d say ‘balance’ lots but the reality at the end of each of those years were deficits verified by the independent provincial auditors.”
Colleen Young, Saskatchewan Party MLA for Lloydminster and Treasury Board member, says with the volatility of the oil and gas industry, worse than normal draught conditions and support given to those in the province during the summer’s wildfires, that a bit of deficit should be expected. All of these factors have taken a huge toll on the province, she says, and offered a bigger hit to the budget than the province would be used to in normal years.
“...We were committed to ensuring that people’s safety and lives were taken care of first and foremost,” she said of those affected by the fires. “That’s something that has affected our first quarter report, as well as farming conditions across this province. I think we know and understand there are pockets where there have been some extreme dry conditions but there’s also some flooding, believe it or not, and farmers have a loss of crop production this year that has to be dealt with.
“So our crop insurance will be higher, our forest fire is higher than usual and the price of oil seems to either drop and fluctuate back up a bit but has not helped us in any way.”
Young is also confident that the budget will be balanced by the end of the year regardless of the deficit shown in the fiscal update, but thinks there will be some challenges and says the province will have to get used to some fiscal restraint.